Last year was a great success for the Montreal Canadiens franchise with Division and Conference Championships along with a Stanley Cup appearance.
Without a doubt last year was a great success for the Montreal Canadiens franchise. Division champions, conference champions, losing the Stanley Cup finals to Edmonton in six games with Andrei Vasilevskiy winning both the Vezina and William Jennings Trophy while coach Peter Laviolette was nominated to the Jack Adams award.
Laval Rocket also made it to the playoffs and when summing up the finances the team economists had every reason to be pleased. The financial strength was a key factor as the club headed into the offseason with several key players leaving the team for free agency.
There were a lot of signs implying that free agency was going to get wild, so the Montreal management decided to be proactive. They spotted a couple of teams in financial difficulties and offered to buy players for cash. As soon as trading opened GM Lennart Westman could announce the acquisitions of defenders Dmitry Orlov from Anaheim and Adam Larsson from Toronto, both paid for with cash only.
Larsson was later traded to Boston for Anthony DeAngelo. Replacing Derick Brassard, Westman brought in fellow Swede Mikael Backlund from Colorado. Despite that the team had to turn to free agency to find another center as team captain Jason Spezza announced his retirement.
Fortunately the bidding for the designated player wasn’t at all as crazy as for some others and the Canadiens could sign Adam Lowry for four years at $3,6M.
”I am very pleased with how the offseason worked out for us," Westman comments. ”Going into the offseason I was afraid our focus would have to be damage control more than anything else. As things developed I now actually think we’re going into the preseason even stronger than last year, so I think the fans and the opposition has all the reason to expect us to be a very serious contender again this year.” Now, let’s not just take optimistic Westman’s word for it. Let’s compare the new players to the ones leaving, position by position:
Mikael Backlund vs Derick Brassard: Using the previously explained formula for rating offensive qualities Brassard this year comes into the season with a 75,8 average while Backlund’s rating is 79,2, with only the FO skill being slightly lower than Brassard’s and the rest of the stats way better. Backlund’s EN, DU and DF is also way above Brassard’s, raising expectations that both GF and GA averages could improve this season.
Adam Lowry vs Jason Spezza: As Spezza decided to retire after this season the need for a FO-skilled third line center arised. The former captain put up a 74,8 average while Lowry brings similar 74,4 to the table. But since both players in fact had only one job on the line up; to win the face offs, it’s really more interesting to compare the FO stats alone. Last year Spezza (FO 91) won 57,73 % of the 783 face offs taken. Last year Lowry took 842 face offs on the Tampa third line and he won 58,43 % of them. Since that his FO stat has raised even more (FO 96) which sure makes us feel good about this replacement as well.
Wayne Simmonds vs Dustin Brown: Offensively Simmonds (69,2) compares very well with Brown (69,4). Defensively though Simmonds (70,5) is expected to be of more value than Brown (67,75). As long as he can avoid taking penalties that is. But considering the cap hit is only half of Brown’s it sure feels like another full-fledged replacement.
Dmitry Orlov/Anthony DeAngelo vs Alex Goligoski/Brayden McNabb: Ranking the defenders with the previously known formula Orlov and De Angelo starts the season with 78,67 and 76,33. At the same time Goligoski (now on Tampa) has rerated as 79 and McNabb (now on Florida) is a strong 81. Without a doubt there’s a risk that the downgrade in defensive qualities will increase the pressure on Vasilevskiy/Kehler. At the same time though the offensive quality with the replacements is improved. Orlov/DeAngelo average 74 and 77 to be compared to Goligoski’s 72,75 and McNabb’s 71,25. This is a strategic change that has potential to be incredibly important for the team’s future, as the new defenders are younger and under control for many more years than Goligicki/McNabb. The cap hit is also $3 325 200 lower, which of course is of great importance too.
Cole Kehler vs Anders Nilsson: Kehler had a great season as a starter in the farm. As he kept improving also physically during the summer he was promoted to the pro roster replacing one of the last season’s best performing back ups, Anders Nilsson. While Nilsson (now on Vancouver) has an average of 79 in primary stats and 80 in secondary stats the eight year younger Kehler is not far behind with 78,67 in primary stats and 79,67 in secondary stats. It won’t be easy to go up against Nilsson’s 91,9 save % from last year but expectations are high and Kehler has all the qualities to be as good and eventually even better than Nilsson.
The Laval Rocket will see even more changes this year. Coach Mike Eaves was not re-signed. The management instead decided to give the opportunity to 20 years younger Ryan Mougenel.
He will be given a much younger team to work with as well, possibly lowering the expectation a bit? ”Not at all”, claims Westman.
”We have a number of great players from our prospect pool that will be dressed for play and I expect them all to rise with the occasion. Accompanied by Ryan and some veterans still there to guide them I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a very successful season, and postseason together!”